Early January can be a bleak and somber hour of letdown, a sudden stark plunge out from under the canopy of festive Yuletide nights full of commemorative lights into harsh daylight and reality, shorn of light, save harsh winter light low on the horizon. There is a kind of Cold Turkey quality to it.
I just coiled up a string of lights from out front and hung them in the shed. Will I own this shed or this place or be putting those lights out in front this place next year? The glow of them had outshone anxiety for the future, briefly. Small wonder some people leave their lights up all winter — and that Christmas Shops are popular, even in July.
In recent years, freedom from anxiety, some of it self-inflicted, has never been a given. But I pray for health and emotional and material progress, and some good jokes to tell, and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Gentleladies, now and the whole year through.
I haven’t put away the crech yet. I’ll wait for the formal date of epiphany and the traditional arrival of the magi. A hard coming they had of it, writes Eliot of those faith-led astrologers, just the worst time of year/ for a journey, and such a long journey…
The snow is coming up north. We never sing, or dream, of a White January.
On three occassions in my professional life as a television reporter, I have been called into managers’s offices for what I felt were infuriatingly unfair adjustments or assessment of my work. All three were on or about January 7th. I’ve blocked out two of them and am busy erasing memory of the last one. But, again, they came in early January and were a stain on my life that had been so soothed days before by holiday bliss.
It’s all okay, I ended my career with wide respect from colleagues and am feeling great love for the trade I left behind seven years ago.
But what have I been doing these seven years? Well, writing here, at least for part of it. I’m a writer. Writer’s write, as a late professor, Edward Clark, was to often remind me. I need to write more, and better. That’s my –no, I won’t call it a Resolution. It’s a hope — and resolve. It is a professional, dare I say, artisitic aspiration.
But, back to January….
Much ado will be made of this January 6th in light of last year’s January 6th Capitol riot. There was, in a sense, a kind of national Epiphany in that early winter event, its meaning or full long or short-term import unclear amid a blizzard of partisan sniping.
I leave that to God and the modern magi to sort out.
I’m still sorting out early January….
I remembering, years ago, hearing right after the holidays a brief, unremarkable radio new report of the death of a famous actor and major Hollywood figure. It felt, to my young teenaged mind, like the announcement of the return of adult life as usual — no more festive lights or Christmas music (though some lights might had lingered) that allowed us all to be children or, at worst, teenagers. It was once again time for sorrow, war,and the gray light of day. From divine birth to human death — again.
Tragedy reborn. Business as usual.
It’s not that I had any particular love or admiration for this particular actor who died that long-ago early January. I guess it might have occurred to me that he was probably sick all through the holidays. And that was sad.
The actor’s name was Dick Powell — fairly famous actor, director, singer, producer through the years of my early life. I’d seen him on television from time to time. He was only 58 at the time of death. I’ve checked — he died January 2, 1963.
The big crystal ball had dropped in Times Square, the crowd had roared and gone home — and somewhere in the instantly busy world, the once very famous, now nearly forgotten man named Dick Powell died.
The cause of death was cancer. John F. Kennedy, native son of Massachusetts, was President. He was only 46 and riding high after having successfully confronted the Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba. Wife Jacquiline, like her husband, a young and popular figure, was probably pregnant by then. New life was on the way.
The baby would be born that summer in resperatory distress at Cape Cod hospital. Fellow teenagers hanging out on a summer’s afternoon by the First Boston Ten Pin Bowling Alley, told of hearing the armada of sirens as the ambulance carrying the baby sped nearby on the Southeast Expressway en route to Massachusetts General Hospital. The baby — Patrick Bouvior Kennedy, member of one of the most famous families in the world — would die, despite frantic efforts to save him, at one of the best hospitals in the world. (Had there been helecopter medflights and advanced pediatric medical procedures available in 1963, might he have been saved? )
News reports showed the obviously emotional wrung-out young President and his wife, the First Lady, leaving the hospital. There was commentary that a sad chapter was ending for them.
Another cataclysmic chapter would very soon follow.
In November, the President would be assassinated in Dallas. The life of the world would be altered utterly. The baby Kennedy, buried at a family plot in Brookline, would be quietly disinterred and laid to rest with his father at Arlington National Cemetery.
My 53-year-old father witnessed all this in sorrow. He was healthy that prevous Christmas of 1962. But he, like the departed Dick Powell before him in Christmastime, would be dying of cancer by Christmas, 1963 — and would die on Memorial Day, 1964. He would have been 55 on June 11, 1964.
It is January 3, 2022. I should have been thinking of Dick Powell yesterday. I’ll pray for him today — for the repose of his soul, a good Catholic thing.
And for my father — and for former colleague Bill Campbell who died on the last day in January on or about 1976.
And you know what? January is a new beginning for us, the living.
A hard coming we had of it…
And the magi went home, “with an alien people clutching their gods…” The poet tells us “they should be glad for another death.”
But, boy! in the meantime, did they have a good story to tell!
And we’re all listening, this January, and every January.